Saturday, July 15, 2006

Well-read? I haven't a clue!

I stumbled across someone's list of "Books you should read to consider yourself well-read." It's not authoritative, just one person's list and it is 426 books long. I took the time to count how many of them I've read, and I have read 117 from this list, and that includes giving myself credit for War and Peace, which I haven't finished.

So, according to this list, I have only read approximately 1/4 of the books I need to read before I can consider myself well-read. However, there are books on this particular list that I have no intention of ever reading. And surely it isn't necessary to read all those obscure Jules Verne titles before you qualify as well-read? This list doesn't even include every novel by Jane Austen, who is a more significant writer than Verne (in my humble opinion, of course). In other words, according to this list, I definitely don't make the cut and cannot be considered "well-read."

But a suspicion keeps looming larger in my mind that there probably aren't ten people in the United States who've read every single book on this particular list, or any other list of some 400-plus books. And therefore...what exactly would be the criteria by which to judge anyone "well-read?"

I'm mulling this over. I have read some hundreds of books that are considered classics, and yet...there are some glaring omissions in my "books I have read list." I've never read anything by Victor Hugo. I've never finished a book by Solzhenitsyn (after starting more than once). I've only read one book each by John Steinbeck and Sir Walter Scott. I've neglected most Russian and French literature in favor of English authors, and I've still missed a few of them--notably Samuel Johnson and D.H. Lawrence.

So what does it mean to be well-read? I've read a lot of second-rate books, fluff authors, and even a pretty impressive amount of genre fiction (back in the day). Stack the classics next to this stuff, and I'm reasonably certain the second-rate pile would reach higher than the classics. So, even if I make the suggestion that quality as well as quantity is a factor, and that "well-read" means not only reading many books, but reading excellent books, I'm not going to measure up, I don't think. And yet I read all the time. Every single day, with very rare exceptions. Because my reading time is limited, I try to read only worthwhile books most of the time, with just the occasional brain-splurge into "fluff."

I guess what I'm thinking is this: I know that I read more than the general population, and yet I still don't measure up to a very high standard. There is only so much time in the day. No one can read everything. When you put it all together...I still don't know exactly how one might define "well-read," but I suspect it's a pretty subjective description, and therefore doesn't mean all that much.


At 9:02 AM , Blogger Phyllis said...

No Solzhenitsyn?!?!? My dear, you must do something about that! Just don't start with his Gulag first, like I did. (However, even with a start like that, he's still one of my favorite authors.)


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